SONOMA, Calif. – Kevin Harvick expects to see a repeat winner in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway (3 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
That would be a departure from the norm at a track that has produced nine different winners in the last nine years.
If Harvick’s assumption is correct, the pool of potential visitors to Victory Lane is reduced to seven active drivers: Harvick himself (last year’s winner), Kasey Kahne (2009), Jimmie Johnson (2010), Kurt Busch (2011), Clint Bowyer (2012), reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. (2013) and Kyle Busch (2015).
Harvick believes stage racing will tend to keep the strongest cars near the front of the field, based on pit strategy.
“You know at those two stages that the caution will fly at that particular lap,” Harvick said. “Your strategy is kind of dictated, one way or another. You will either pit before the stage ends or run it to the end and get the points. In those two sections of the race you know you really only have one pit stop window, maybe two at the end depending on how many sets of tires you have left.
“Tires are obviously very important here as far as speed. You have to manage your tires. Depending how many tires you have left, you might stop once, and if the caution falls correctly in the first stage, once or twice at the end depending on the sets left.”
Last year, Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers played the strategy perfectly, sacrificing stage points and taking advantage of a long green-flag run that consumed the second half of the race, which ended under caution when Kahne hit the wall as Harvick approached the finish line. By then the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford had a lead of almost eight seconds.
If there is to be a repeat winner at Sonoma, Harvick, a five-time winner this season, has to be a leading candidate. Only one problem – history isn’t on his side.
There hasn’t been a back-to-back winner at the 1.99-mile road course since Jeff Gordon took three straight checkered flags from 1998 through 2000.